Joe Rizzo, executive director of Triumvirate Theatre, and Paul Morin and Rebecca Gilman, director and producer of "Murder in the Cathedral" with the Kenai Performers talk about maintaining community theater amid COVID.
Feb. 17, 2021, Kenai Conversation, community theater, part 1
Feb. 17, 2021, Kenai Conversation, community theater, part 2
The best way to make sure something doesn’t happen is to plan for it.
That was certainly the case this year for the Kenai Performers. With more directors stepping up to put on shows than ever before, the theater penciled in at least seven productions this season. Most years, the organization puts on between three and five shows.
“The original plan for 2020-21 was going to be the biggest thing that we had done for a long while," said board member Rebecca Gilman.
Though the Kenai Performers cast “Dancing at Lughnasa” before coronavirus became a ubiquitous term, the show is an unexpectedly good tonal fit for culture during the pandemic.
“Finding joy in a rough time. I’ve always really enjoyed the Irish mentality of storytelling where you have humor and sadness in the same story and it somehow fits,” said Ian McEwen, who is directing the Kenai Performers production of “Dancing at Lughnasa,” which opens tonight at the performers’ space behind Subway on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
McEwen cast the show in January and it was supposed to be staged in May. But then, of course, came COVID-19. The cast switched to Zoom rehearsals for a couple of months, which was not ideal in many regards, but helpful in others.
“Rehearsal over Zoom really just turned into more of a line reading,” McEwen said. “Every time we would do about half the show at a time. And one of the biggest parts of Zoom was just to keep the actors in the script and to keep that connection. And because we ended up being kind of our own little group, trying to stay in your own little unit because of this, we grew into such a tight group that it really added to the family aspect of the show. So, oddly enough, it helped the performances.”
Fifteen years ago, Joe and Paulene Rizzo and Chris and Carla Jenness toured a vacant room in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna, hoping they could turn it into the new home of their nonprofit community theater organization, Triumvirate Theatre.
“Because that’s where you go to put a theater, you go to the mal," said Joe Rizzo, speaking at a 15th-anniversary celebration held June 30.
The space was big but not promising. There was stuff hanging from the ceiling. Garbage was piled on the floor. There were no internal walls or anything useful, really. But the price was right, in that it was cheap, though not cheap enough that they could pay the rent just with admissions from shows.
They decided to turn half the space into a used bookstore. And who better to run a bookstore than someone with the last name Reeder. They recruited Rosie Reeder for the job.
“And I said, ‘I don’t know how.’ And they said, ‘We don’t, either, that’s why we’re asking you,’” Reeder said.